10 must sees on a road trip in Abruzzo

A day trip from Rome into the Abruzzo lands

Only about 2 hours drive from Rome, this is one of those perfect day trips from Rome!

You can take a road trip and immerse yourself in the unexplored and wild nature of the Abruzzo region. Abruzzo has very often been defined as the “green hearth” of Europe, due to its three big national parks and the many natural protected areas.

While some regions in Italy are very well known abroad (such as Sicily, Tuscany, Sardinia, ..) Abruzzo lies a bit too much in the background in my opinion, and therefore it’s too often underestimated.

So here’s some must-see for your wanderlust soul and some travel inspiration for trips off-the-beaten-path!

day trip from Rome

Abruzzo is a region featuring both sea and rocky mountains. However I am going to cover the mountain part, as that is what I explored the most.
The typical Abruzzo landscape is rocky, really rocky! Stones are everywhere, and there is so much stone all over that houses are also built with it.

This region also features the highest peak of central Italy: the Gran Sasso peak (translated: “Big Stone”- I told you, it’s all about stones!) with its 2912 meters above sea level (9554 ft).

But let’s skip straight to my personal top 10 list of marvels you can’t miss in this beautiful region:

1) Gran Sasso

As mentioned before, the highest peak of central Italy. Skiing destination during the winter, hiking trail during the summer. The Gran Sasso can offer dramatically different landscapes within a matter of months. So it’s really fascinating to visit it at different times of the year. This place has also been a location for some military operations during WW2 (this is where Mussolini was kept prisoner, in the hotel-prison of Campo Imperatore). Thanks to the clear skies and the polluted-free air, today this place hosts a branch of the National Institute of Astrophysics, and its astronomical observatory, which is usually open to visitors.

Before you go, check the website for the latest updates. It is currently closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place, but keep checking for any reopening.

2) The Castle of Rocca Calascio

day trip from Rome
The Castle of Rocca Calascio

Located at 1460m (4790 ft) of altitude, where clouds sometimes surround this place. Unless you go during the high season (especially in August) it’s going to be only you, the wind and the castle up there. This place might look familiar for some of you, as the film set for Lady Hawke and the Name of the Rose took place in here. As you reach the peak, it feels like you can touch the sky with your fingers. Most of what you can see from there, is below you. Just magical!

3) Santo Stefano di Sessanio

day trip from Rome

A stone-made village at about 1250 m (4001 ft) above sea level. As you drive past it to reach Rocca Calascio, it feels like you suddenly bumped into a fairytale village, located at the end of the world.

4) L’Aquila

Hit by a terrible earthquake in 2009, the medieval city of L’Aquila is slowly standing up from its debris to show a shiny brand new look which preserved its ancient character. Top sight: the Fontana Luminosa (translated: the luminous fountain) seen by the main “corso” (the high street) with the mountains in the background.

5) Alba Fucens

day trip from Rome

This ancient Roman town was inaugurated in the IV century BC. The highlights are: its majestic amphitheater still in use today (check online for the events calendar), its Apollo temple turned into a stunning medieval basilica, and the city roads with their zebra crossings and shops on the sides.

A time travelling treat! Here’s my video on Alba Fucens:

YouTube video

6) Aielli.

day trip from Rome

It may seem just like another typical Abruzzo village. But when you get lost in the narrow streets of Aielli, you suddenly bump into the most colorful murals ever seen! The visual impact rising from the contrast with the mountain scenery it’s simply breathtaking. Plus, it’s really Instagram-friendly 😉

7) Altopiano di Cascina

day trip from Rome

When you reach this 32 squared-km (20 sq-mi) plateau, just above 1000 mt (3280 ft) above sea level, you suddenly feel like you are into a perfect Wyoming landscape. Only a few farmers live here, and saying this place is crowded for summer picnics it probably means no more than 5 people on the whole plateau. Wear some comfy clothes, pack some food and water and head up here for a full day of relax and peace. Wear comfy shoes too, maps are available with 4 different trails to take on the mountains. A place where is just you.. and nature.

8) Campotosto lake

day trip from Rome

This artificial lake offers THE BEST sunset of the region. Head down to this lake half-an-hour before sunset. You’ll witness a magical color transition ending up with a pink/violet sky, framing the perfect reflection of the mountains on the lake water. Wait until the last minutes of sunset to shoot some super cool silhouetted pictures against the light. Don’t miss it!

9) Grotte di Stiffe

Take a journey to the center of the earth into these spectacular caves. Stalactites and stalagmites lean towards each other to connect ceilings and floors, and taking your breath away. Book tickets in advance on the website, as there’s limited slots.

10) Theater and Amphitheater of Amiternum

day trip from Rome

In the suburbs of L’Aquila, traces of the ancient city of Amiternum remind us of the glorious past of this territory. Amiternum was an ancient Sabine city, which later became Roman, and that was also home to the historian Sallust. The two remarkable remains are the Theater and the Amphitheater, visible from the road. When you’re there, close your eyes and try to imagine the screaming crowds watching the shows inside this mini-Colosseum and in the theater. Then enjoy the beautiful scenery in the background.

It’s been difficult to choose only 10 among the stunning sights of Abruzzo, therefore expect more and more super duper places to explore around the area. I also like to get lost and explore as I go, so you can start from one of these top 10 and then just go with the flow!

You can combine few of these places with a road trip to Rome. You can rent a car and go on a road trip (the scenery as you get closer to them becomes more and more beautiful). Or choose to make a day trip from Rome and see one of them at the time.

Did you know any of these places? Have you ever been there? What is your favorite? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

I hope I inspired you for your future trips off-the beaten-path!

See you soon and.. ciao! 😉

Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.

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